At least in terms of turning herself into a household name, Linda Sarsour has come a long way in a very short time.
She first came to the attention of most of us on January 21, the day after the presidential inauguration, when she was one of the major speakers at the Women’s March in Washington. As executive director of the Arab American Association of New York and a spokesperson for the National Network for Arab American Communities, she was one of the event’s four co-sponsors.
Sarsour might have come and gone without making much of an impression on viewers around the country except for a couple of things. She wore a hijab. She began her speech with the words “as-salāmu ʿalaykum.” She said she would not respect Donald Trump. And she charged that Americans Muslims had been “suffering in silence for the past fifteen years” – in other words, 9/11. While omitting to mention any of the countless acts of jihadist terror that have taken place during those fifteen years, she painted a picture of post-9/11 America as a nightmare of Islamophobia.
Sarsour presented herself as a progressive feminist. But it soon emerged that she is a champion of Hamas, of the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia, and, not least, of the introduction of sharia law into the United States. That didn’t keep her from being praised by Bernie Sanders, being named a “Champion of Change” by the Obama Administration, and being cheered on by a wide range of major figures and organizations on the left.
In response to criticism of Sarsour, much of it coming from the right, a group of 100 prominent Jewish figures, including Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner, signed a letter defending her. A gay Israeli actually felt obliged to pen an article for the Forward headlined “On LGBTQ rights, Linda Sarsour Is No Ally,” while Judea Pearl, the father of Daniel Pearl, wrote a similar piece for the same publication entitled “Why Linda Sarsour Is a Fake Feminist.”
Amid all the chaos and controversy, Sarsour has since moved from triumph to triumph. In June she delivered the commencement speech at the City University of New York School of Public Health. And in early July, she made headlines with a speech given at the convention of the Islamic Society of North America. She began the speech by thanking an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center – one Siraj Wajjah. She went on to savage the Trump administration, whose members she described as “fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes,” and spoke darkly of “the potential chaos that they will ensue [sic] on our community.” She then suggested that she and her audience – and, presumably, Muslim-Americans generally – would “stand up to those who oppress our communities” and expressed the hope that “Allah” would accept that resistance “as a form of jihad.” Rejecting the idea of assimilation, she affirmed that Muslim-Americans’ “top priority” is “to please Allah, and only Allah.”
Matt Duss, a foreign policy adviser to Sanders and contributor to The Tablet, actually defended Sarsour’s appalling remarks, specifically her use of the word “jihad.” He tweeted: “If you’re a journalist shaming @lsarsour’s choice of words instead of helping readers better understand them, you’re bad at your job.”
Lee Smith, writing in The Tablet, compared Sarsour with comedienne Kathy Griffin, who had recently received extensive media atttention by posing with a bloody Trump mask. Like Griffin, suggested Smith, “Sarsour wanted to have it both ways – get lots of attention for having done something sensational, and then play the role of victim when some of the attention invariably turned critical.” In short, Sarsour “has become a very adept self-promoter.”